Organizing a variety show full of engaging performers is no easy feat. Even after convincing each artist to join the lineup, you’ll find conflicting schedules and sudden cancellations are thrown into the mix, along with travel accommodations to plan and other minutiae that pile up in the pre-planning of a concert—and that’s just for a one-night engagement. Musician Wesley Stace (stage name John Wesley Harding) knows all about it, as he has curated and produced Cabinet of Wonders, his monthly series of variety shows based in New York City, since 2009.
“Why would you stop?” he replies when asked what keeps him going. “If you think about it the other way, it’s really fun. Who wouldn’t want to put on a show of everything that they like?”
He speaks excitedly and amicably over the phone, taking a break from the poetry he’s writing, which will be read at the beginning of his upcoming show in Somerville, which was scheduled exclusively for WBUR. While none of the shows follow a specific theme, Cabinet of Wonders is driven by three intersecting tenants: music, literature, and comedy.
“What I realized was that all novelists want to be musicians really, deep down. All musicians want to be listened to, and have their lyrics taken seriously. And in the middle of all that, a comedian can have an audience respond to them and what they’re doing and sort of punctuate the whole thing with laughter,” Stace says. “So the idea was to bring it all together. I don’t want to constrain—I like people doing what they want to do.”
And Stace is doing something right. Cabinet of Wonders has enjoyed a long history of often sold-out shows, and used to appear regularly as a special podcast on NPR. Past performers include Andrew Bird and MGMT frontman Andrew VanWyngarden, as well as writers Rick Moody and Stephen Elliot. Comedian Eugene Mirman is a regular, and appears in almost every show.
“The thing about variety is that you know there’ll be something that you like, something you had no idea you would like and possibly had never heard of, and if there’s something you perhaps didn’t like, things are moving quickly, so the great news is it’ll be over soon,” Stace says. “What I try to foster is as much collaboration between the acts as possible. That’s the magic stuff.”